×

Hard Right

Here's proof that "Hard Right," a vicious political drama from David Barth, scrapes some kind of nerve: At the performance reviewed, patrons started yelling at each other across the aisles during the play.

With:
Henry - Jeremy Beck Greta - Shayne Dukevitch Barbara - Susan Engbrecht Bob - Dylan Price Phil - Stacy Shane

Here’s proof that “Hard Right,” a vicious political drama from David Barth, scrapes some kind of nerve: At the performance reviewed, patrons started yelling at each other across the aisles during the play. “How can you laugh at this? It’s not funny!” said one man, reacting to the crowd’s titters as a mysterious government agent terrorized a suburban family. But the laughs kept coming, especially when the agent offered absurd rationales for his behavior. “How can you laugh?” the man repeated, until someone retorted, “Don’t tell me what to think!”

But the better response might have been, “Don’t tell me what to feel.” Because although “Hard Right” courts a political agenda, it’s less a thought-provoking inquiry than a swift kick in the gut.

Barth, who also directs, has created such a visceral display of violence that viewers could easily be polarized, either shuddering at its power or laughing at its outsized intensity.

That’s not unlike the effect of certain Pinter plays, in which terror springs from chatty rogues with unclear motives. Barth’s work especially recalls “The Birthday Party,” as both plays introduce characters who are subtly cruel to one another and then subject each other to unexplained menace.

But though it traffics mainly in dread, the production’s tone is expertly controlled. At first, Barth even invites us to let down our guard. The opening scenes — in which Henry (Jeremy Beck) returns from school for a Rosh Hashanah dinner with the folks — have the breezy pace and throwaway jokes of situation comedy, offering no clue of what’s to come.

And when Bob (Dylan Price) arrives, saying he’s conducting a survey for Henry’s college, the script teases us for a long time into thinking something worse will unfold.

The hint of danger, though, is all in the words: Price’s engrossing perf keeps Bob collected and polite. Even when he’s telling the family they cannot leave their home, his calm makes it chillingly hard to anticipate when his temper will blow. And once he has exploded, he regains his composure so quickly that we can be fooled into thinking he’s finished his attack.

Like the rest of the ensemble, Price never seems to be acting. The naturalness of the perfs gives this production the taint of a grisly documentary. Tears, screams and rushes for the door have all been crafted to arise at believable moments.

Such verite violence is not easy to watch, and some might call it lurid. However, Barth applies a touch of unreality with his heightened language, and he gives the play a larger purpose by voicing obvious political biases.

Bob, for instance, justifies his actions by saying they’re at the service of right-wing causes. Not that he commits to one over another: He might say he’s testing the family’s resolve in case a terrorist tortures them for information, only to suggest later that he’s trying to get the Jewish clan to convert to Christianity.

Ultimately, none of the reasons stick. The emotional assault overwhelms the messages, leaving the impression that Barth is shrieking against conservative politics in general rather than a specific act or value.

There undoubtedly will be auds who dismiss the play for its lack of ideological clarity. But Barth’s ambiguous approach makes his work more unsettling. Without a specific root, oppression becomes a force on its own, tearing through the play unchecked.

Invincible, oppressive violence is an uncomfortable idea. No wonder auds are fighting over how to receive it.

Popular on Variety

Hard Right

Players Theater; 199 seats; $25 top

Production: A Billy Humphreys and Dieter Weihl presentation of a play in one act, written and directed by David Barth.

Creative: Set, Mark Cruzan; costumes, Jodi B.; lighting, Sarah Jakubasz; dramaturg, Zachary Barton; production stage manager, Billy Humphreys. Opened March 12, 2006. Reviewed March 14. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.

Cast: Henry - Jeremy Beck Greta - Shayne Dukevitch Barbara - Susan Engbrecht Bob - Dylan Price Phil - Stacy Shane

More Legit

  • The Laugh Factory Gives Back with

    The Laugh Factory Gives Back with Meals and Programs

    They say that everyone has a story to tell. It’s become Jamie Masada’s mission to help some people learn how to tell theirs. For 35 years, the founder of the Laugh Factory has made his main location on Sunset Boulevard home to a comedy camp for kids ages 9 to 16. While all are welcome [...]

  • Jamie Masada Dave Chapelle Laugh Factory

    Jamie Masada Reflects on 40 Years of the Laugh Factory

    When Jamie Masada was a young kid, growing up poor and Jewish in Iran, his father told him that, because he had been a good boy, he would take the son to see a moving picture. Masada didn’t know what that meant, but he went with his father to the shopping district at night. They [...]

  • Lungs review

    London Theater Review: 'Lungs' Starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith

    What, to ask the perennial theatergoer’s question, is Duncan Macmillan’s “Lungs” about? It’s about climate change, isn’t it? No, it’s a play about deciding whether to have a baby. Actually, like his earlier success “People, Places, Things,” in which Macmillan balanced a personal story with a depiction of addiction, it’s a juggling of two subjects [...]

  • Bella Bella review

    Off Broadway Review: Harvey Fierstein's 'Bella Bella'

    Harvey Fierstein is one busy guy. A Broadway institution with four Tony Awards for acting (“Torch Song Trilogy,” “Hairspray”) and playwriting (“Torch Song Trilogy,” “La Cage aux Folles”), he has also written everything from teleplays (“The Wiz Live!”, “Hairspray Live!”) to an award-winning children’s book, “The Sissy Duckling.” His movie work includes “Mrs. Doubtfire” and [...]

  • Soft Power Jeanine Tesori

    Listen: Jeanine Tesori and the 'Soft Power' of Musicals to Change Minds

    The title of “Soft Power,” the new play-cum-musical by playwright David Henry Hwang and composer Jeanine Tesori, refers to cultural influence — in this case the cultural influence of America on China, and of China on the U.S. According to Tesori, the term might also describe the force that musical theater itself can exert in [...]

  • Jane Alexander James Cromwell

    Jane Alexander, James Cromwell to Star in Broadway's 'Grand Horizons'

    Jane Alexander and James Cromwell will head up the Broadway cast of Bess Wohl’s “Grand Horizons.” The two Oscar nominees will star as Bill and Nancy, a couple whose five-decade-long relationship unravels when they move to a retirement community. After Nancy decides she wants a divorce, her family life is sent into disarray. The show [...]

  • Chasing Rainbows review

    New Jersey Theater Review: Judy Garland Bio 'Chasing Rainbows'

    Judy Garland’s voice was unparalleled and rich, an emotive contralto that lasted long into her later years with a loud and winning showiness to go with its melodramatic nuances. But that voice concealed a troubled backstory, as the woman born Frances Ethel Gumm toted the baggage of a closeted gay father, an ugly duckling’s insecurity [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content